‘Pressuring’ student sexual health services under fire

Image: Max Pixel

Unity Health sexual health and contraceptive services have been criticised by York students. Nouse has received complaints of poor quality of treatment at the York Unity Health surgeries, including reports of feeling pressured into certain contraceptive methods, not providing pregnancy tests, judgemental staff, and poorly managed sexual health appointments.

One student said: “I felt very pressured into sticking with my current form of contraception, despite the fact it was not working well for me. When I raised concerns about the side effects my contraception was having on me, I felt the attempts to convince me to not remove that factor, in order to gain control of my mood, were quite personal and not particularly supportive. I felt that every possible side effect of the contraceptive method I wished to switch to was emphasised in an attempt to keep me on my current method, despite my evident worry.”

The contraceptive pill was confirmed to be linked to depression in October this year by a University of Copenhagen study. The results found that there was an increased risk of first diagnosis of depression and first use of antidepressants among those using hormonal contraception. The study also found that the highest rates occurred among adolescents and noted “Healthcare professionals should be aware of this relatively hitherto unnoticed adverse effect of hormonal contraception”.

A student noted that “I was prescribed a contraceptive pill by Unity Health healthcare professionals with no concerns. It was only once I suffered what was discovered to be an atypical migraine that resulted in an emergency appointment with a doctor, that I was told to immediately stop taking my prescribed contraceptive pill because, as someone with a history of migraines, I should never have been prescribed the type of contraceptive pill I had been taking in the first instance. I had attended all of my standard follow up appointments to check on how my contraceptive methods were working out, and this had never been mentioned to me.”

Another student reported being made to feel “demeaned” and “irresponsible and immature” after visiting a doctor at Unity Health about a sexual health matter. The student said that “it makes you less likely to seek help and advice in the future. It’s ridiculous and quite shameful that a university health centre can’t provide neutral and helpful support”. They added, on the subject of another visit to Unity Health, “I was told in my first year to go and buy my own pregnancy test even though I hadn’t gone to see a doctor about anything to do with sexual health, and even though they’re supposed to provide them for free. I definitely wouldn’t recommend Unity Health for any form of support.”

Complaints of poor management of contraceptive appointments and unprofessional behaviour were also reported to Nouse: “After 12 rescheduled, cancelled or otherwise useless appointments I finally had my implant removed with Unity Health – while the implant wasn’t a problem, dealing with Unity Health made me never want to have one again.”

The student added that upon visiting a Unity Health practitioner and “hinting to some underlying issues I was granted only a disapproving face and the suggestion that I go to the family planning clinic and ‘think about what I’ve done’.” The student reported receiving no response from Unity Health after writing a complaint.

YUSU Community and Well- Being Officer Dom Smithies stated: “It’s quite concerning to hear these reports. I would encourage any students that have had negative experiences to come and discuss these; I am in regular contact with Unity Health and will follow this up. In terms of an alternative there is YorSexual Health who are based by Monkgate but also run clinics on campus and around York to ensure they’re accessible to students”.

Unity Health have been approached for comment.

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